Coming out is a nerve-wracking experience for queer people. A lot of our straight, cis-gendered friends are worried about saying the wrong thing to us when we do it. We get it, it’s a very sensitive topic – you’re feeling unsure about how to react to us coming out, or you’re concerned you’ll say the wrong thing and we’ll get upset.
Here’s all the dos and don’ts for helping your friends when they come out to you, by LGBTQ+ young people:
Do understand that coming out is a process
When we make the decision to come out, it’s not something we’ve slept on over one night. It’s very long, lonely, painful, confusing and frustrating. It’s a terrifying choice to make. It creates a big grey cloud that looms over our heads, like a sense of dread because we never really know how you are going to react.
We can never be positive our parents will be okay with it and we can’t guarantee our mates will either. It’s a big jump into an unknown area and it’s horrible to do it alone.
20-year-old Jess told The Tab she debated coming out to her mum for a long time, and even made a list with pros and cons of coming out. “I really had to think hard about whether it was worth doing”, she says.
“Most of what was on my cons list didn’t happen but looking back now, I realised how much I let my mind spiral because of how scared I was over how she’d react to me being gay”.
Even though Jess came out to her mum, like every other queer person, she remembers the hardest part was coming out to herself first.
Coming out of the closet isn’t a one-time thing, it’s something we will have to do time and time again for the rest of our lives. But, like Jess says, the first person we have to come out to is ourselves which is “the hardest thing to do.”
Coming to terms with our sexuality is tough, especially if we have an internalised hatred for who we are. Our thoughts spiral and it becomes an isolating experience to go through alone. Once we convince ourselves it’s okay to be queer, our thoughts immediately move onto the next person who we have to tell.
“I came out to one friend over summer as lesbian, I realised then that there was no going back. Even though I had ripped the plaster clean off, I felt exposed and totally vulnerable,” Jess told The Tab.
Coming out isn’t something we do once. We do it over and over again, it’s a repeated process and a lot of work.
Don’t put pressure on us to talk about it
22-year-old Paul remembers when he first came out and didn’t want to talk about it to his friends.
He says forcing the conversation is something people should avoid doing – coming out is our own thing to do and we have the right to do it at our own pace.
“When I first came out, I told everyone I didn’t want to talk about it and when I did, I would be the one to bring it up”, Paul told The Tab. “That way, I was able to talk about it in stages and started to make jokes which made the whole thing a lot more easy and comfortable.”
You should never force someone into coming out or say anything which makes us feel inclined to talk about our sexuality with you. There is nothing less supportive than someone telling us to “just come out already” – we will do it at our own pace.
Also, if you think you’re releasing some of the pressure for us by telling our other friends in the group – you’re not. You don’t have the right to tell our story, you will never experience what it is like to come out to someone. Don’t invalidate our experience.
Do realise that not everyone is as accepting as you are
The world is a really tough place for us, not everyone will be as understanding as you. If you think people won’t care about our sexuality, you’re wrong. Every member of the LGBTQ+ community knows some people will hate us for how we identify.
We face discrimination every day, drinks are thrown over us and we’re assaulted on public transport. Our sexuality is a reason behind our anxiety and fear. Every time we leave the house we have to take so many factors into consideration, like the time we’re going out, the route we walk home, if we’re queer-presenting or straight passing enough that we won’t get harassed.
Just because you don’t see or contribute to the homophobia doesn’t mean it’s not there. Make sure you understand the hurdles we face and let us know you’re here to support us and talk about our anxieties if we choose to share them with you.
Don’t say you ‘always knew’ I was gay
The majority of us have spent a large chunk of our lives concealing our sexuality and true identity. Some of us are forced to refrain from sharing our identity because we don’t feel safe in our surroundings, whilst others aren’t entirely comfortable with themselves. So telling us you “always knew” we were gay can be very harmful.
Izzy told The Tab it took her a long time to come to terms with being gay, so for people to say “oh yeah, I knew” is rude. What are we meant to respond to you? Thanks for outing us before we even had a chance to say it ourselves??
Izzy said: “Also, if you genuinely did know I was, why didn’t you tell me when I spent ages dating and crying over shit men?”
Do thank us for opening up to you
We hold onto our identities and keep them to ourselves for a very long time. We struggle and debate the idea of being gay whilst we tear ourselves away from the world because we’re scared of the consequences our sexuality brings us.
We’re not asking you create a huge fuss and bring out rainbow balloons, but just tell us you are proud. We fight so hard to have the right to love who we want to love and be who we truly are. Hug us and smile, don’t sit there with a blank expression.
Saying nothing is always worse than saying the wrong thing in this circumstance. Even if you just smile, it will put us at ease and make us feel safe.
22-year-old Charlie said when he is preparing to tell anyone about his boyfriend or his queerness, he assesses whether he is in a safe space by seeing if the person he is telling is smiling or not. “There’s nothing worse than pouring your heart out to someone about something so deeply personal while they sit there expressionless, leaving you wondering what they’re going to say next.
“So, the next time someone privileges you with revealing the full extent of their authentic selves, just remember to smile – it speaks volumes,” Charlie told The Tab.
Don’t tell me ‘it’s okay’ to be queer
We are always taken aback when people tell us they don’t think of us any differently after we come out to them. The least we expect is to be treated any differently. We’re no different to the person we were five minutes ago before we told you we were gay – I promise.
25-year-old Harrison spoke to The Tab about his experience of coming out and having people stress to him that they love him the same amount as before. “That’s the least I expect from my closest friends”, he said.
A lot of our straight, cis friends aren’t involved in queer culture, which makes it important to us that you take your time to research LGBTQ+ history. Try to get to grips with exactly what we are sharing with you, you’ll find it easier to talk to us and you won’t worry about asking the wrong questions if you put time in to research it for yourself.
“You can’t be a good ally and a good support system if you don’t know the fundamentals of what you’re supporting,” Harrison said.
Do take your time to read up on my queerness
Like Harrison explained, nothing makes us feel more comfortable than someone who goes out of their way to prove they are an ally. Sometimes when we come out it can mean big changes, and it’s okay to take some time to process it.
Lucy recalled the time her friend informed her they were trans. She went away and read up on how to be a better ally and more supportive. This also helped Lucy understand what questions they should ask and which questions she should avoid. It helped her prepare for chatting to her friend about their gender and new name, without being in the dark or having the wrong idea about what they would be going through.
“It’s okay to take time to think about it, but making sure you voice this with the other person is so important. Otherwise they’ll feel invalidated and like you don’t care. Saying ‘okay, I hear you and accept this, but I would like some time to learn more, so I can better support you through this’ is great if you don’t know how to handle it right away,” Lucy told The Tab.
Don’t avoid bringing it up again
We’ve established how important coming out is. It’s a huge deal to us, we’re letting our guard down and making ourselves totally exposed to whatever reaction you’re going to have.
If we come out to you, please bring it up afterwards. Don’t avoid talking about it because it’ll make our minds spiral. We’ll end up thinking you’re wanting to avoid the fact we’re queer rather than it just being a case of you not knowing what to say.
Like a lot of us, Izzy first came out to friends when she was drunk. But the day after there was no follow-up chat or acknowledgement of what she said the night before.
“The hangxiety was horrific,” Izzy said. “Just lying there wondering if you dreamed coming out to them, trying to remember what they’d said and how they’d reacted, and then wondering if they even remembered it and realising you might have to find the energy to come out to them all over again.”
If we come out to you drunk, you have to bring it up the next day. Even if you just ask whether we remember what we said last night – questions like these can spark really important conversations so make sure you ask them.
Some names have been changed to allow people to speak freely
If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s an incident of homophobia on campus, an experience you’d like to share, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]